Bishop public lands bill unveiled, eliciting support and criticism

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 20 2016 9:00 a.m. MST

The San Rafael Swell in Emery County.

Steve Baker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop's Public Lands Initiative bill was unveiled Wednesday with provisions to expand Arches National Park, create a new national monument in Utah and establish designated recreation and energy zones to provide "certainty" among Utah's public land users.

What remains to be seen, however, is if Bishop and his co-sponsor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, can harness the maelstrom of criticism from environmental groups and garner enough support to move his proposal forward to a place called success.

Bishop, R-Utah, said he is not deterred by those lining up against his bill and will continue over the next few weeks to work with both critics and supporters to tweak the measure before it is introduced in Congress. There may be modifications that help quell some of the hue from detractors, he added.

"If they shoot it down they shoot it down," he said Wednesday after a press conference unveiling his 63-page bill. "We did the best we could do. But what it does mean is that any kind of future positions are going to be much more radical, much more confrontational, much more litigious than what we were attempting to do in solving these problems."

Bishop's bill, crafted in concert with Chaffetz, R-Utah, promises new conservation areas, new wilderness designations, protection for prime hunting and angling areas, as well as energy and recreation zones.

Among its many provisions, built over three years of meetings with conservationists, sportsmen, county and Native American leaders, energy and mining industry representatives, recreationists and agricultural interests, are:

  • 40 new wilderness areas in Utah covering 2.2 million acres
  • Recreation zones in Grand and San Juan counties of 375,000 acres
  • Expedited mineral leasing and development on certain public lands
  • Expansion of Arches National Park to the north to protect Delicate Arch and possibly improve congestion
  • A new national monument at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
  • 4 National Conservation Areas — including Bears Ears in San Juan County, Book Cliffs in Emery County and White River in Uintah County

The bill has drawn criticism from some Native American tribes because it falls short of creating a Bears Ears National Monument and consolidates mineral resources currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management by proposing to trade them to the Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

"If Congressman Bishop and Chaffetz did not want to fix land management problems on Indian lands, they should have left our lands out of their bill," said a statement issued by the Ute Tribal Business Committee. "Instead, the bill proposes to take Indian lands and resources to fix Utah's problems."

Bishop asserts the measure is the largest conservation lands bill in the history of the lower 48 states and proposes to protect or safeguard 4.3 million acres.

Groups like the Wilderness Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Grand Canyon Trust say the bill does just the opposite.

"We are disappointed. We think it is a missed opportunity, and there are certainly opportunities for common ground in Utah," said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness campaigns for the Wilderness Society. "This proposed draft goes far beyond what we and other stakeholders can agree to and will have detrimental effects on public lands in Utah."

Spitler was especially critical of the energy zones provided for in the bill and management options in wilderness and conservation designations that "undermine their conservation purposes."

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